Clarity and Engagement Key to Successful Communication
This post is week 5 of 8 in the #8WeeksofSummer Blog Challenge for educators. This week's topic is all about the successes and challenges of communication during the pandemic. It became crystal clear that during virtual learning the focus of communication needed to broaden to reach students multiple ways. Without students coming to the virtual space of the library or classroom, I couldn't rely on signage on walls, tables and doors to spread the news of upcoming events and new resources. Also I had to consider, how can I get my learners talking in a virtual environment?
During this past year, communication had to get an over haul to meet the needs of the different learning styles of my learners and to ensure accessibility to make learning equitable for all. When instruction was happening in person, many times I would give the directions and model how to do something. I would include written directions for multi step assignments. This strategy alone didn't work well for a virtual environment, however. Students needed to be able to go back and watch directions again. They needed all instructions written down with visuals preferably. I found that if I didn't provide video and written directions with videos, I was making my job harder and my learners were less successful. As I prepared tutorials for students and staff, I included step by step written instructions with visuals and video tutorials that include closed captioning. Looking back now, I can see how that would always help reach all learners regardless of in person or virtual setting.
Engagement is a theme that kept repeating itself during virtual learning. How do I engage my learners and get them to communicate and collaborate? I know in the beginning, it was like I could hear the crickets while I spoke to my learners. Everyone was still getting accustomed to having classes online. Both adult and student learners seemed to feel it was risky to speak during times of discussion. I knew I had to try different approaches to help my learners feel comfortable and to provide opportunities for collaboration, creativity, communication and critical thinking. One way I did this was taking some time to address the elephant in the room. My learners sincerely weren't comfortable in this new online setting. So I made it a point to have regular icebreaker/ getting to know you fun activities. These included turning on and off your camera to respond, responding in the chat and also responding verbally. I gave students different choices in how they could respond and I think the fact that it was fun and they had choice really made all the difference. Students and staff began to start "warming up" to the idea of what participation looks like in a virtual setting. It was a challenge to keep coming up with these SEL/ icebreaker activities, but this year I have collected a robust collection of ideas I can continue to use in the future.
Also, incorporating EduProtocols was also a great way to provide opportunities for my students to practice communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking and most importantly to boost engagement. If you haven't heard of EduProtocols, they are a instructional lesson frames that fit any content area or grade level and support all learners while embodying the Madeline Hunter lesson cycle and Universal Design for Learning (UDL). They boost engagement through collaboration, critical thinking, creativity and communication. While I feel pretty comfortable using EduProtocols, UDL is brand new to me and I recently had the opportunity to attend training with Kimberly Voge on UDL and EduProtocols. Kimberly is an expert in UDL and she helped me understand how UDL and EduProtocols go hand in hand by having participants in her workshop create an Iron Chef activity (similar to jigsaw) on one of the three components of UDL (Engagement, Representation, and Action/ Expression). My role was to create a slide giving three main bullet points on representation. You can see it below.
Representation involves "providing the same information through different modalities (e.g. through vision, hearing, touch)" as well as making sure the information you share is accessible to all learners. Representation also includes ensuring that information also provides "clarity and comprehensibility across all learners." (UDL Guidelines)
Some big takeaways I have from working during a pandemic with 100% virtual instruction is that the practices I put in place to ensure the success of my learners is something that I will continue to do as a best practice. I want to do more research on UDL and look at how this could be implemented campus and district wide. I've already started reading UDL Now based on Kimberly Voge's recommendation. I also can't wait to continue to implement EduProtocols and present on these to my colleagues.
I'm feeling inspired and making lists and plans of how I want to improve my instructional practice next school year. How about you my friend? Are you getting inspired to start thinking about next school year yet? Have you thought about what you'll keep from the lessons you learned during virtual learning and what you want to improve on?